Report: Obama makes stand for Tenn. union vote at party retreat

President Obama on Friday made a stand against opponents of an effort to unionize workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., according to a Reuters report

The president said those against the effort “are more concerned about German shareholders than American workers" in a closed-door session with lawmakers in his party during their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., according to a Democratic House aide. 

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The Detroit-based United Auto Workers union is holding a labor election at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant that is scheduled to conclude on Friday. The vote, which began Wednesday, is seen as a test of the trend of foreign automakers looking at U.S. plants in “right-to-work” Southern states.

The UAW effort has drawn national attention because Republican lawmakers have railed against it.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has urged auto workers to vote against the unionization effort because he says the formation of a union would hurt job creation in his state.

“I’ve had conversations ... and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga,” Corker said in a statement on the first day of voting on Wednesday.

The UAW is one of the largest and most powerful labor unions in the country, but its influence has waned in recent years as two of the three major American auto companies received bail-outs from the federal government in 2008 and 2009.

Labor contract issues were frequently cited by Detroit-based auto executives as the reason for the industry’s plight at the beginning of the bailout.

Obama has touted the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry since the bailouts as success for his administration, saying the companies’ fortunes began to turn around when they worked together with labor leaders to restructure old deals.

Southern states like Tennessee have used their right-to-work status to target foreign automakers looking to open U.S. facilities in recent years with much success.